UL researcher awarded prestigious global fellowship

Dr Mary O'Keeffe

Dr Mary O'Keefe. a  University of Limerick Health Research Institute researcher based in the Clinical Therapies department has been awarded a prestigious global fellowship to further her research into lower back pain.

Physiotherapy researcher Dr Mary O’Keeffe is the first UL graduate to receive the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship from the European Commission. The award will enable Dr O’Keeffe to attend the George Institute for Global Health at University of Sydney, Australia, one of the top ten research institutions in the world for scientific impact. There, she will be hosted for two years by Professor Chris Maher who is the world leader in lower-back-pain research.

"I absolutely love research and think it has great potential to have a positive impact on the economy, health system and most importantly the patients and public all over the world," Dr O'Keeffe commented.

"Back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world and I hope by strengthening both my research and communication skills I can one day contribute to improving the lives of millions of people worldwide for the better. Good science and research are powerful weapons and have the potential to do great things. Knowledge is power! I am very fortunate to be this position and I am excited for all the opportunities ahead," she added.

Dr O’Keeffe will conduct advanced analysis of her PhD multicentre randomised controlled trial which investigated the role of a personalised multidimensional treatment for chronic low back pain within the Health Service Executive. Her doctoral research was undertaken in the Clinical Therapies department under the supervision of Dr Kieran O'Sullivan, through a competitive PhD scholarship from the Irish Research Council.

While at the George Institute for Global Health, Dr O’Keeffe will be trained in mediation, moderation and economic evaluation and will be involved in pharmacological and exercise trials. The fellowship also involves skills development in networking, grantsmanship, project management, leadership and student supervision and communications training with a media office and a multi award winning health journalist, Dr Ray Moynihan, co-author of Selling Sickness-How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning us All into Patients.

The fellowship also involves an internship with Wiserhealthcare, an international and interdisciplinary collaboration to reduce over-diagnosis and overtreatment of conditions like lower back pain. 

In the third year of the fellowship, Dr O’Keeffe will return to UL to be hosted by her PhD supervisor Dr Kieran O’Sullivan. During this time she will complete a secondment to the European Pain Federation (EPF) in Brussels. EPF creates a forum for European collaboration on pain issues and to encourage communication at a European level.

“I am delighted to have been awarded this prestigious fellowship. Post PhD can be hard and a confusing time to decide 'where do I go and what do I do next?' This fellowship gives me a-once-in-a-life-time opportunity to further my training and development in a world class research team and this will build my capacity to become a leading light in my field of back pain," Dr O'Keeffe concluded.